Category Archives: Writing Workshops

Cary on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Caring for the writing self

I have learned a lot in the last seven years about caring for the writing self and the creative soul. Some of the things I have learned have helped other people, too.

Doing the Amherst Writers and Artists method has become a way of life. Many people I have met while doing this have become dear friends whose occasional appearances are now cherished events in the week.

The role of teacher is one I take reluctantly. I never liked teachers much; I was kind of rebellious I guess, and independent, resistant to being led. Yet I believe fervently in the effectiveness of people coming together to write and read aloud in a structured way. The part of being a teacher that I take reluctantly is the authority part, the part that implies that you should do things my way.

What I have to impart is is a way of being. That is what I share.

Many of us have been conditioned in childhood to denigrate our creative selves. I was lucky not to have this conditioning from my parents. My parents valued my creative spirit, so I am not damaged in that way, and I can therefore share with others a fresh delight in creative exploration.

Like everyone else, I do have a shadow side related to my creative work. But it mainly comes out when I cannot be as free and creative as I was meant to be.

The AWA workshop is the ideal setting for me to help others reach their creative potential. One thing I know from long experience is that artistic success and accomplishment take unexpected forms and involve unexpected difficulties. One aspect of creative endeavor we can control is the regularity and quality of our practice. We cannot control our level of genius or our talent but we can control our level of commitment, and we can consciously acquire knowledge about techniques and markets. We can choose what books to read. We can read books that acquaint us with current forms and techniques. We can to some extent control the amount of time we give to the endeavor, and we can find ways to build it into our lives. We can make conscious sacrifices that give more time to creative work.

This is why I keep doing the AWA method, because it is one conscious choice I can make to continually feed the creative spirit. Each time we come together to write, it strengthens us a little more. However uncertain the future may appear, however distant we may feel from having a completed book and an agent and a publishing deal and a movie option and syndication and residuals and book tours and awards and wide publication and fame, however distant these things may seem, we can always make day-to-day choices that keep our creative practice alive. We can always keep writing. And we can enjoy it.

That is why I keep providing these workshops and urge people to attend. Because the creative spark, the spirit, needs to be fed.

Another part of the creative journey is the practical realm: gaining recognition, acceptance, publication, monetary rewards, etc. Learning about this is like learning about any set of institutions and practices; it is a little like learning about how to get into a school, or how to get a job. There is an application process. So we have to ask, What are the requirements? Who are these people who work in publishing for a living and how does one, in essence, get a job with them? When we publish something we enter into a kind of employment. We don’t like to think of creative endeavors in this way, perhaps, but when we offer our work for sale we are economic actors. It may be called “cultural” activity but it is in fact economic. At the fringes of the literary economy are magazines supported by grants of money from funding organizations, universities, philanthropists and so forth, which take only minimal ir any advertising and keep their shelf prices low. But it is all economic activity. It is all the trading of labor and materials. The rewards are sometimes emotional, having to do with status and self-worth. But these too are economic drivers.

It is important to understand this in order to protect the creative spirit. For if we fail to get published we must understand it is probably because we did not gauge the economics of it; we did not understand that we were in a role of selling our work, and selling our work means tailoring it to the market. Certain segments of that market may be hungry for extremely unusual, idiosyncratic, nearly unintelligible work that seems to come from a primitive or intensely intellectual source; a small number of people hunger for work that is wild and  strange and disjointed; they hunger for surrealism or dadaism or impenetrable intellectual prose; they do constitute a market but it is a small market because they are rare, unusual people. The masses tend to enjoy writing of a more pedestrian sort. I tend to be of the more rare sort who likes extremely strange work but paradoxically I want to write for a large audience so I try to write in forms that are widely accessible.

If we are to nuture and protect our creative selves we must be practical and realize that not everything we produce is going to be met with love and approval; a lot of what we produce will have to be adjusted for a market if it is going to be published. So another purpose of the workshops is to strengthen artistic self-esteem so that we do not fall apart when we realize we have to revise or rethink our work for a particular market, so that we know we are keeping our creative spirits alive and fresh even though we need to go through cycles of revision and critique for the market.

The workshops keep it fun, and enliven our sense of self-worth, and keep it separate from the sometimes slow, grinding and unpleasant tasks necessary to get our work published.

That’s also why I am always trying to learn about literary agents, publishing and markets. I want my work to be read; I want to be a part of the conversation. I don’t just write for myself. Writing helps me stay psychologically healthy but I don’t write for therapy. I write to be a part of the larger world, to connect. So if you are trying to find an agent, or get your work published in small magazines, or make a living as a freelancer, I am interested in hearing from you. This is the world that I know and love. I have mostly made my living by writing, and that world makes sense to me — more sense than the other main repository of writers, which is the educational world. I have mostly done journalism and am coming late to the world of literary book publishing, which does seem to be more closely allied with universities and less with what I consider the more street-level activities of journalism, activism and performance.

Anyway, there are many ways to feed the creative spirit and my workshops are just one way. I hope you will find as many ways as you can to feed this vital part of your self. I am doing my small part to keep the world a creative, vibrant, interesting place for us all. I hope to see you often and to always lend a helping hand to help you find new avenues of expression.
— Cary T.

 

Travel at from Paris to Angers at a speed of up to 200mph on the TGV!

Easy ways to get to Le Chateau du Pin

Would you like to come to the Chateau du Pin writing retreat with a well-planned route that is easy to follow? My wife Norma is a great planner, plus she reads French, German and Italian, so she has figured it all out for you.

First: Would you like to fly into Paris, or into Nantes? The advantage of flying into Paris is that it’s Paris. Paris is an amazing, life-changing city. Nothing can describe Paris. If you haven’t been there, you owe it to yourself to come a couple of days early and see Paris. The advantage of flying into Nantes is that it is easier to get to the chateau from Nantes than from Paris.

Paris_-_Charles_de_Gaulle_(Roissy)_(CDG_-_LFPG)_AN1959872
Charles de Gaulle airport

Getting to the Chateau du Pin from Paris

To get to the chateau from Paris, you will need to take the TGV from Gare Montparnasse to the city of Angers. To get to the Gare Montparnasse directly from Charles de Gaulle Airport, take the Les Cars Air France shuttle (16.60€) to Gare Montparnasse. (If you are spending a few days in Paris, take a taxi or other form of transport to Gare Montparnasse.) From Gare Montparnasse take the one-hour and forty-minute TGV ride to the city of Angers (book via Raileurope.com: $88 U.S. and up. Trains travel at speeds up to 200mph. They depart every one to two hours.) Then from the train station in Angers, take a fifteen-minute local train ride to the village of Champtocé-sur-Loire. Trains depart from Angers to Champtocé-sur-Loire at 12:30 pm arriving 12:45 pm; 3:37 pm arriving 4:00 pm; and 6:05 pm arriving 6:30 pm. Depending on which train you take, we can pick you up at the Champtocé-sur-Loire train station at 1:00 pm, 4:00 pm, or 6:30pm. If you arrive and have not made prior plans to be picked up, or you don’t see anyone there waiting for you, call or text Norma at 415 317-4460. We are here to help!

Nantes Atlantique
Nantes Atlantique airport, Hall 1

Getting to the Chateau du Pin from Nantes

It’s easier and quicker to get to the village of Champtocé-sur-Loire if you fly into Nantes, and the total prices are comparable, once you add up all the train travel. In Nantes Airport, Hall 1, buy a 7.00€ shuttle ticket  for Gare de Nantes. At Gare de Nantes, buy a ticket to Champtocé-sur-Loire, 17.00€. Take train from Nantes to Champtocé-sur-Loire (7:41 am arrive 8:30, 12:11 pm arrive 12:58 , and 5:35 pm arrive 6:30 pm).  (You can also buy this ticket in advance through RailEurope.) We can pick you up at the train station at Champtocé-sur-Loire at 8:45 am, 1:00 pm, or 6:30 pm. Or call or text Norma at 415 317-4460. If you have any questions please let us know–we are here to help!

tennisheadshot2AWA

Pay what it’s worth to you. What a concept.

That’s right: For our great four-day writing retreat coming up May 16 through 19 in beautiful rural Connecticut, I have decided to do something radical yet sensible: I’m reducing the price, but rather than picking a percentage reduction, I decided to ask you, if you are interested in coming—and it is going to be really great—What would you like to pay?

Seriously. Here is the reasoning. I once went to a financial consultant who helped me a great deal with some business matters and the handling of money. When we were through I said how much and she said, “Pay me what it was worth to you.” What? I was shocked. But she had degrees in economics and had been genuinely helpful to me, and she sounded serious. So I had to think, on the spot, about what it was actually worth. I wrote her a check for what it was worth to me. The experience was empowering. I realized the world wouldn’t fall apart if we picked our own price, and that there’s no shame in talking about what something is actually worth to you. I realized that we could trust each other make a rational exchange. And I continued to benefit from her services and expertise.

Now I’m putting that lesson into practice. So if you would like to come but have hesitated because the price wasn’t right for you, pick a price that’s right for you.

Email me at cary@carytennis.com and suggest a price you can pay. The best offers will get rooms and we’ll all have a fantastic four days writing and doing workshops with me and with Pat Schneider.

Simple as that. Let me know. And if it’s not right for you but might be good for a friend, just forward this to a friend! Or tweet it, or retweet it, or Facebook it, using the buttons on this page, or however you share things that interest you and make sense for the world.
Best
Cary T.

Do you have a project you need to finish? Is it driving you nuts?

FinishedCropWouldn’t you feel great if you finally got it done?

Finishing School is a way to get things done when nothing else has worked.

It doesn’t matter what the thing is. Finishing isn’t about the mechanics of the task. It’s about the process, or method, of finishing. It’s very simple. It is easy to learn.

If you have tried scheduling, will power, time management, getting up earlier, taking off a day, enlisting the help of experts, doing copious research, asking your friends for help, starting over, and a million other things, and this one thing still isn’t done, then try Finishing School. Because obviously those other methods didn’t work.

And don’t give up! Come to Finishing School and let us help you get it done.

This method will work. If it doesn’t, just tell me and I’ll give you your money back. I’ll be glad to give you your money back because I’ll be learning something from you. It’ll be useful research-type information. Nobody has asked for their money back yet but eventually someone will, and when that happens I will congratulate them and thank them, because that will help us improve the method.

But for now, people come to finishing school and they finish whatever it is. And you can too.

What are you putting off? Is it a lifelong dream? Is it a project around the house? Does it involve the prospect of an unpleasant conversation? The risk of rejection or disappointment?

Whatever. The main thing is that it’s something that needs to be done and it’s not done so it’s bugging you. But you’re finally ready to do something about it.

Good for you.

sign up.

Or if you’re not quite sure, email me at cary@carytennis.com and tell me about your situation.

GuestHouse_Slider_TEXT

Increase your creativity. Contact rich memories. Write with greater ease. Meet creative people.

 

Register Today - Hand Drawn Blue

Come to Guest House Retreat and Conference Center in Chester, Connecticut, May 16 through 19, 2014, for four days writing, thinking, talking and exploring new inner territory in a safe and supportive environment.

I’ll be there, along with Amherst Writers and Artists founder Pat Schneider, offering daily Amherst Writers and Artists workshops in the beautiful Connecticut countryside.

For info, email cary@carytennis.com or call 415 308-5685.

 

And who am I?

CarySmallerMy name is Cary Tennis and I’m a veteran writer and musician lucky enough to have found a writing workshop method that works wonders with writers of all levels of experience and ambition. For 12 years I wrote the “Since You Asked” advice column for Salon.com, and became attuned to the many obstacles creative people face, both emotional and philosophical. And I learned a good bit about my own process and quirks. I’ve been leading Amherst Writers and Artists workshops and retreats on the West Coast and around the world since 2007 but this will be my first workshop in Connecticut. Whether you are acquainted with the Amherst Writers and Artists workshop method or not, I look forward to sharing with you its powerful benefits. I use the method as spelled out in Pat Schneider’s book Writing Alone and With Others, but of course I bring to it my particular learning and style. I trust that whether you are acquainted with the method or are doing it for the first time, you will find something useful and lasting in the experience.

 

Why Connecticut? Why Guest House?

My wife, Norma, and I looked long and hard before settling on Guest House. It’s a beautiful, secluded gem of a retreat and conference center on the Connecticut River, halfway between New York and Boston. We thought, not being from the Northeast, that it would be good to make it available to both metropolitan areas. And we liked its mission statement: “To create opportunities for transformational work, and to provide a nurturing environment for people seeking to develop human potential and enrich the world.” Plus:

  • There’s a grand piano in the lobby!

    “Cary Tennis has it all,” says Amherst Writers and Artists founder Pat Schneider. “He’s funny, he’s kind, he’s smart he’s brave, and he’s very, very wise.”

  • Nearby salt-water swimming!
  • Miles of hiking trails!

 

Register Today - Hand Drawn Blue

 

screen3-958x340

Writing workshops with Cary Tennis

Check out our reviews on Yelp!

The Amherst Writers and Artists workshop method helps people write. It’s that simple.

•It helps beginners and it helps professionals.
•Plus it’s fun!

How does it work? Well, I’ve been leading AWA workshops for over seven years and what I’ve seen in those seven years is people coming in who may have written a lot in the past and got stuck, or are currently writing but troubled with anxiety or blocks, or people who have never written a lot but always thought they’d like to. And what happens as we write together in a group and then read aloud, commenting only on what we remember and what sticks with us, is that people loosen up and begin to write more fluidly and with ease. That’s what I’ve observed.

How does it do that? Well, I’d suggest you read Writing Alone and With Others, the book by Pat Schneider, who created this method. I read it in 2007 and then took a week-long workshop with Pat Schneider in Berkeley, California, and subsequently became a certified workshop leader. I use her method because it works. It is best experienced rather than explained. Join us for a session and see if it doesn’t open up new creative vistas for you as it has for me and many others.

Sign up for our Writing Workshop and see what it can do for you!

 


 

 

Annie Valentine Card 1993

Acclamations, accolades, encomiums, commendations, panegyrics and nice things people say

Even from as far away as Australia, I could feel the relaxed, open atmosphere he created among us and found it surprisingly easy to get writing.

Alice Allan, Melbourne, Australia

I was writing descriptions without events, like jokes without punch-lines. The workshops led me to try more active, engaging and complex storytelling. I gave up some fixed ideas about what kinds of writing I do and what kinds of writing are worth doing. After a while a novel erupted.

Anonymous

I avoid workshops because of the damage they can do to writers. Cary’s workshops are nothing but helpful, quietly and subtly leading writers to do their best in an open and welcoming environment.

Randy Osborne, Author of Big Pinch World, Made of This, and a forthcoming memoir

It was a cozy place with all of us talking across borders. I felt charged, and my imagination took me to various lands. I could be myself.  I had thought I was a certain kind of a writer and then suddenly I wrote about a Pterodactyl and I was like “Whoa… who wrote that?”

 — Geetanjali Dighe, Mumbai

I hadn’t done any real creative writing in years. If only I could find a workshop where my writing wouldn’t get ripped to shreds and I wouldn’t feel like a loser idiot. Cary’s approach is flexible and supportive. The prompts take the work in interesting and unexpected directions.

Lorri Leon, Pacifica, California

Nobody waits with a red pencil, nobody judges. The comments are limited to what rings true, what strikes your imagination. After a while I noticed I was writing to feel that ring of truth for myself.

Leslie Ingham, Palo Alto

We write together. We’re all in the same boat. Now I’m a writer, because here I am, writing. I wouldn’t take a class from anyone else.  I wouldn’t let anyone else see inside my head.

Judy Evans, Los Angeles

The rules protect the often fragile and sensitive nature of writing.  Cary is the ultimate host and leader. I’ve been in writing workshops for over twenty years. This one, by far, is the best. Norma almost always bakes amazing snacks, and the dogs provide a little levity. I would urge anyone to attend a series of these workshops and feel your soul begin to expand.

Julia Penrose, Half Moon Bay, California

The structure is creative and supportive; I like it so much that I’ve been back every week. Writing is part of my life now. I look forward to those two hours of group writing each week, both to spark my own creativity and to hear the amazing things others write.

 — Molly Mudick, Phoenix, Arizona

We write in warm surrounds of vibrant voices from far away places in an intimate cyber-circle. We write of things, ideas and stories that lure and propel. Cary guides us to ways of knowing each other and remembering ourselves. It’s where I breathe deeply and write.

Treva Stose, Annapolis, Maryland

“A writer is someone who writes.” Hearing that line every week and reading my writing aloud, without fear, made it come true. I write. I am a writer. I want to be a surfer… A surfer is someone who surfs. I’ve been surfing since May 2010. I dance harder and smile while I’m moving and twisting my body, because that is what dancers do. I am a dancer. I took pieces of wood from the basement and painted them and hung them on a fence. It’s my gallery. Open studio is tonight. Or tomorrow. Or whenever anyone passes by. … I am an artist.

— Shannon Weber, San Francisco

Links for Writers–Books, Blogs, Lists, Etc.

Here are some of the links I mentioned in the Santa Barbara Novel Mentor workshop in February 2013, about dialog, pitches, queries and beginnings of novels.

dialog

Writing Dialog by Tom Chiarella. I lent this book to somebody and have to get it back. It’s a good book. Useful. Interesting.

“Are we still doing the dishes?” This is the page I took that dialog exercise from that we did in the workshop together. I suspect that it’s something Mr. Butler might use on occasion, as it’s on the FSU site. I liked doing that. I liked the suppressed tension that many of our writings had. And then if you recall I thought, now let’s raise the stakes, and so suggested that we write a dialog between two characters, one of whom asks the other, “What do you want more than anything else in the world … and what are you not willing to do to get it?” That last bit, expressed in the negative, is hard to grasp at first but it’s basically saying, “Would you stop at nothing?”

12 Exercises for improving dialog by John Hewitt. Some of these are pretty good. You can’t go wrong trying things out. The more you do, the more you learn.

And how can you go wrong with dialog advice from Stephen J. Cannell, right?

pitches

Here is former agent Nathan Bransford on the one-sentence pitch.

This from writer Hilari Bell on writing a pitch I find useful because it takes us through several iterations of a hypothetical pitch.

Now, of course, this is all in addition to all the things that Michael Neff has to say and all the resources that are on the Algonkian site.

queries

I thought this query letter madlib idea from Nathan Bransford was funny. And it could be useful. As long as what you build on it sounds reasonably like it was written by a human.

openings

I love this long list of novel openings, as well as these 5 ways it can go wrong, both from DarcyPattison.com. Forgive me if I didn’t really know who Darcy Pattison was … I’m not your ideal student of contemporary fiction.

I guess it couldn’t hurt to read this list from the American Book Review of 100 best opening lines, but somehow it leave me flat. I think because there’s no analysis. We don’t really know if those are the best opening lines or they just happen to be the opening lines of some really great novels. Worth thinking about: Would they be in there if the novels that came after them sucked? For instance a couple of them might stop an agent cold. Like No. 65, “You better not never tell nobody but God,” from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982). Or Saul Bellow’s No. 69, “If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.” If it wasn’t a famous and great novel by a famous and great novelist, would it get recommended as a great first line? I dunno. I’m just saying. Saul Bellow, Herzog (1964). And there are among them, of course, lines I like a whole lot, like: 67. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. —Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963) and 75. In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. —Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929). And here is an appropriately doubting and irreverent take on those same 100 first lines.

OK, so that’s it for now. I just promised at the Santa Barbara conference that I’d get back to you on those links and stuff. You could look forever on the Web for such stuff. I’m not saying all of it is great. I also have some favorite books about writing. Maybe I’ll put some of that together too.

Best

Cary T.

 

 

 

Ricky_200x200

Thank you for the Yelps!

I just checked out our Yelp reviews today and I am honored and grateful for all the really thoughtful, funny and kind reviews we received. Here are a few of my favorite outtakes:

“I still don’t understand exactly how it works, but every Wednesday evening, when I’m tired from the day, not feeling particular creative or even enthusiastic, I sit down to write with Cary and the group and somehow – I don’t know how – within 2 hours we have all created the most unique, incredible, original work.”

“Everyone who comes through the door is treated as a writer, and all voices, levels of experience and styles are welcomed.”

“Cary helped me get my very first story published in a real magazine! He’s the best.”

“if he asked I might give him a kidney. The man is a brilliant muse.”

“If I were a poodle, nothing would make me prouder than to take care of Cary and Norma.”

Here’s the link if you’d like to read the actual reviews. Thanks again. We couldn’t keep this going without such generous and talented people in our lives.

 

 

Janine

10 Reasons to Love Finishing School

I’ll be the first to admit it–I have a love/hate relationship with Finishing School. But at the end of last month’s session, I had gleaned 10 great lessons from the experience. Here they are:

1) I increased my tolerance.
I had a fairly clear schedule in April and I thought that I’d just sit down and write for six hours, because that’s the time I’d carved out in my day. But it didn’t work like that. I had trouble focusing. Then I beat myself up for it. “I’m just not the kind of person who can sit and write for six hours.” But then by Week 3, something had shifted. The restlessness was there, but eventually it gave way to sitting and writing.

2) I was able to write in new places.
My new, open schedule meant that I had a new desk to write at. And again, I had trouble focusing. But I had my weekly deadlines and subtly, almost sneakily, the writer part of me took over and the more I wrote, the more I was able to write in new places–the bus stop, a BART station, a cafe, my new desk.

3) I realized that “binge writing” is awesome–but the system I had before worked really well, too.
The thing about writing all the time is that, well, now you’re writing all the time. My writing gathered its own momentum and other parts of my life suffered. Children went without baths. Laundry piled up. My household sorta fell apart. As good as it felt to be writing more, I realized that the balance I’d previously maintained had a lot of advantages as well. (There’s a lot to be said for a functional household!)

4) I learned about how I write.
For example, I don’t tinker with sentences. I’ll rearrange sentences within a paragraph but if a sentence isn’t working and the answer doesn’t come to me, I’ll get further if I just delete the sentence.

5) My writing has a process.
I often write my first drafts in present tense. And then I used to judge myself because I don’t like writing in present tense. But this past month I realized that this is part of my process. Writing a scene first in present tense helps me figure out how I want to manipulate the reader. Then I can go back, shape the text and put it in past tense.

6) The message of my memoir isn’t necessarily the message I learned from the experience.
I don’t have to preach the lesson that I learned from my experience. I am just a character in my memoir and the lesson in the memoir is more universal.

7) I am learning how to write by writing this memoir.
I am learning how to set up a scene, build tension, craft dialogue. I am learning how to absorb feedback and make revisions. It’s easier for me as a memoir because so much is already documented or exists as a strong memory. I don’t have to make anything up. But I am learning how to tell a story.

8) I learned about my ego.
This is example of 6 & 7 combined. The reason a scene is important to me is not why that scene is (or isn’t) important to the story.

9) My writing has phases to it.
I have different phases of writing–a raw-material generation phase, a scratching phase, and a tweaking phase. And if I’m generating raw material, I can’t beat myself up because I’m not tweaking it. By the same token, if I’m writing general topics (the scratching phase), I have to remember that this is still part of the writing, even if it’s jotting down ideas instead of crafting sentences.

10) A writer is someone who writes.
I really got this adage this month! I am a writer. I don’t necessarily have to write this memoir, but this is the story that’s at the front of my brain, so it’s the story that’s coming out first. It’s like the painter whose paintings are all red because all she has at her disposal is red paint. There is a lot of freedom in this realization. This is how I know I will finish this memoir.